Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

What Happened to All the Dermatologists?

Recently I was sitting in the Department of Having A Brain That Is A Lot Closer to 60 Years Old Than I’d Like To Admit (right next door to the Department of Disturbing Trends, not that it matters) when I realized that I had twice used the same excuse for a long interval between columns: “There was this problem and I’m late because of it.”

I guess I could chalk it up to age but I’m not exactly geriatric yet.  More likely it’s stress.  We know that mental stress can have a profound effect on cognitive function in general and memory in particular.  And I did experience some mental stress recently, on a trip to Atlantic Beach, Florida (State Motto: There Are All Kinds Of Sharks Out There; You Just Can’t See Them”) to spend a week with some in-laws.  Spending a week with in-laws can be pretty stressful, depending on the in-laws, but I think it had more to do with the disturbing trend I noticed.

The first day we were at the beach, a guy right next to us was casting into the surf zone, ten or fifteen yards offshore, and after awhile he hauled out a three-foot shark.  This was a little bit concerning to me, since he probably didn’t have a fishing license, but also since the water tends to be kind of murky on the Atlantic side of Florida. (Other State Motto: Most of The Sharks Are Only Three Feet Long) If something is going to eat me, I usually like to see what it is first, but in the end, I figured that a three-foot shark can’t do too much damage, so I shrugged it off.

But the next day when we got to the beach, a helpful local denizen informed us that we had just missed a guy who pulled a five-foot shark out of the surf zone.  He (the denizen) cheerfully allowed: “There are all kinds of sharks out there; you just can’t see them.”

I didn’t like the way this trend was headed, so the following morning we went home.

No seriously, we stayed, and I still went swimming every day, figuring that if something really wants to eat you, it probably will, whether you can see it or not.  But it was still sort of stressful.  I think that if you’re planning to swim in murky, shark-infested waters on a routine basis, you should follow some simple strategies to stress-proof your brain, and maybe pick up a chain-mail unitard while you’re at it.

The first strategy is to start using one of those brain-training apps for your phone.  The app is actually for your brain, not the phone, but you know what I mean.  The one I like is Elevate.  For one, it’s supposed to be good for your memory.  Just now I can’t remember how long I’ve been using it though.  Maybe I got it last Christmas.  Or the Christmas before that.  Or maybe it was Easter.  I can’t remember.  But anyway, now I’m really good at subtracting five-digit numbers without a calculator.  I can also read 560 words per minutes, as long as the words shoot on to the screen one at a time, in a vertically ascending stack.  As I type this, I’m thinking that it would be great to be able to read that fast but all the books would basically be these gigantic reels of two inch-wide paper.

And I can rapidly find speelling and and other grammatical Mistakes in shor treatises about things like history of shark attacks in Florida. (Third State Motto: Dang We Had A Lot Of Dermatologists Down Here Until They All Went Swimming)

I’m suspicious that all this brain training just helped me to develop a set of very particular skills: skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…No wait!  That’s a line from “Taken”, that movie where Liam Neeson single-handedly introduces a significant perturbation into the adult male life-expectancy statistics for about five European countries.


Albania was one of them.  I forget the others.  So maybe we had just better move on to stress-proofing strategy number two.

That would be pets.  Pets are known to reduce stress.  For example, a purring cat in your lap can drop your heart rate and blood pressure significantly.  But only until the cat abruptly sits up, stares intently at the corner of the room, then bolts upstairs like it is being chased by a shrieking horde of unseen entities.  A Stress Monkey is probably a much better choice.

My wife Jeanette and I saw this clip on the news about this tiny monkey that spent most of its day clinging to the back of the family cat, reducing its heart rate and blood pressure, and protecting it from unseen entities.  Jeanette, who has a medical clinic, said: “Maybe that’s what I need!  A Stress Monkey!  It could sit on my shoulder at the clinic, and reduce my heart rate and blood pressure!”

I thought maybe it could also double as a Mood Monkey, like those Mood Rings everyone wore back in the day, shortly after the invention of liquid crystals.  The Mood Ring, as we all know, was supposed to change colour according to your mood: calm–>pale blue

seasick–> greeny-yellow




So logically, a Mood Monkey is a little monkey that sits on your shoulder and makes faces at people you secretly loathe, freeing you to smile at them sweetly.

Person you loathe: “Your monkey just made a horrible face at me.”

You (smiling sweetly): “Oh behave, you bad, bad monkey.”

This is an unretouched photo of Natalie Biggins, a non-swimmer and dermatologist, on her wedding day somewhere in England, with her Mood Monkey: “Mr. Bigglesworth”.  She is smiling sweetly so that might be ominous but on the other hand, her monkey seems noncommittal.  Time will tell, I guess.


Now these prevention strategies are OK as far as prevention strategies go, but if you really need a serious memory overhaul, you need to start thinking about medical nanotechnology, which is basically swarms of tiny “nanobots” released into your bloodstream, making their way to wherever they’re needed, repairing damaged brain tissues, rearranging your sock drawer, and sperm-surfing in their spare time, clinging tenaciously to the sperms with their menacing FDA-approved nanoclaws.


Researchers are hard at work developing this technology, but my chief concern is this: what if these nanobots go out of scope and just start beetling around, doing whatever they please?

Early reports are not promising…

Here is a picture of Enrico, at age two, cheerfully anticipating his tenth trip into low earth orbit:


This next picture is Enrico, age fifteen, after retiring to Atlantic Beach, Florida, worn out from his life of adventure, suffering from general crankiness, post-traumatic stress, memory loss, hemorrhoids (not shown) and advanced depilation.  He is clearly a candidate for a nanorobotic makeover.


And here is Enrico, after his makeover:


At least now it’s probably safer for him to go swimming…

Next month: How (and why!) I traveled to Miami, Florida, met the prominent Miami Herald nanoroboticist/humor columnist Dave Barry, and returned to Calgary, in less than 24 hours.

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Craggy Island Calculus Problem

For the sake of argument, say that you happen to be standing on the edge of a beach off the coast of Ireland, directly facing a little island called Craggy Island. Fans of the British television series “Father Ted” will be getting excited at this point, since Father Ted and his fellow renegade priests were exiled to Craggy Island due to some unspecified but nevertheless unsavory behaviour.  But more on that some other time.

Where was I?  Oh yes!  For some inexplicable reason, you have been seized by a powerful urge to kayak to the island, but you don’t know how far away it is.  Assume you’ve never seen “Jaws”.  How could you determine the length of your impending voyage?

Personally speaking, I would just call the Craggy Island Department of Tourism and Limpets (1-877-LIMPETS), and ask them how far it is to their island.  But maybe there’s no answer when you call and maybe you just don’t like taking the easy way out.  So now what?

Well…if you happen to know how fast the lighthouse beacon is rotating, and if you happen to know how fast the beam is sweeping toward you when it hits the (eerily-straight) shore 1/2 kM north of where you’re standing, you could say to yourself: “This sounds like a related-rate problem!  I might be able to use Calculus to solve it!”


Since you have nothing better to do, you resist the urge to start paddling, so you fly home and spend the next few nights covering page after page with chicken scratch, basically re-deriving Calculus from first principles, since you haven’t taken it for 38 years or so.  (The picture which should pop into your head at this point is that of a large beetle flipped over onto its carapace in front of a blackboard, feebly waving a piece of chalk clutched in its foreclaw.)

beetle-on-backFinally, your son (who oddly enough happens to be taking Calculus at school) takes pity on you after witnessing your struggle and says, “Dad, why don’t you just Google it?”

Since you were born well before Al Gore invented the Internet, you look at him with a dumbfounded expression and reply, “What the heck would I Google?”

He regards you with a sorrowful expression and says,

“I dunno.  Google is pretty clever.  Try typing: ‘Calculus Lighthouse Problem.’ ”

You dutifully follow this directive and to your undying amazement, this search phrase returns a long string of hits, and one of them even refers to Craggy Island!

From there it’s just a short hop to a YouTube video clip (Calculus tutorial) made by an endearing fellow named Bart Snapp who solves your exact problem right before your very eyes!  You really should watch this clip, mostly because I took the trouble to transcribe the intro almost word-for-word, but also because you will find yourself swept away by Bart’s patently obvious love of teaching in general, and Calculus in particular, and also because this guy is great at reading out loud.  I quote:

“Hello there!  Now we’re going to do a problem (waves hands energetically) about a beacon in the ocean, also known as a lighthouse of sorts.  But we’re going to call it a beacon.  All right?

“All right!  Let’s see the problem! (Reads problem enthusiastically and eloquently.)

“All right.  So we have our problem and now we have to… (he pauses for dramatic effect)…Draw a picture! (Bart starts sketching rapidly on a whiteboard)

“All right.  So we have a, we have the shore here, and the shore’s supposed to be straight.  (Draws more-or-less straight line)

“Well.  Well that’s straight enough I guess.  Here’s point A.  (Draws the beacon on a line perpendicular to point A, and presses on)…the beacon has some light that is shining and let’s see…(adds some more notations like dϴ/dt and dx/dt to his diagram).

“What else?…Aha!

“And the water…This is all supposed to be water here.  (Draws blue squiggles.)  That’s great.”

And really, it is great because at that point you see that the beacon, the place where you’re standing directly opposite the lighthouse, and the point where the beam hits the shore 1/2 kM north of you, form a triangle, and you can relate the rotational speed of the beacon (in radians/sec of course) to the sweep rate of the beam along the shore, through trigonometry!


From there it’s only a matter of a couple more days of calculations until you figure out the lighthouse is 1 kM straight out from where you’re standing.  You can easily handle a 1 kM paddle but then you find out that the last person who tried it was eaten by sharks.  What should you do?

The first thing you should do is ask yourself whether this whole eaten-by-ravenous-sharks while-attempting-to-paddle-to-Craggy Island thing is true or is it an urban legend?  And does Craggy Island even exist, or is it the product of the imagination of a couple of half-baked Irish writers named Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan?

This is important because urban legends are everywhere these days, thanks to Al Gore, and you just can’t be too careful.  Consider the story I read recently about an intoxicated Marine in the state of Kansas who was arrested after a failed attempt to foil his car ignition interlock by having a raccoon breathe into it.

Right away you have to be suspicious that this is an urban legend because there are no raccoons (or Marines for that matter) in the state of Kansas.  Actually, I’m lying.  I made up the Kansas part, and if you consult Google, you will discover that Kansas is literally teeming with raccoons.  I quote from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website: “Highly intelligent and adaptable, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is one of our most abundant furbearers. “ But all that aside, your first clue that the story is b.s. is that everyone knows Marines don’t drink.

Anyway, the point is that you have to be careful not to waste your time on drivel like the story of The Raccoon and The Breathalyzer. Instead I want you to recall The Owl and The Pussycat, a poem by British artist, illustrator, musician, cookbook author and all-around oddball Edward Lear (1812-1888) and then check out the poem I just wrote.


With apologies to all the people of Britain, except Prince Charles:

The Owl and the Pussycat did some maths, with the aid of Barton Snapp
They related dtheta to dx (by dt) but they found themselves in a trap
They set forth for the Isle but in a short while, the water began to boil
Attacked by a shark, in the cold and the dark, off shuffled their mortal coil(s).



Well, it’s time to shut this thing down.  I’m going to heat up a plate of leftover limpets and then get ready for my paddle to Craggy Island first thing in the morning.  But just one nagging thought remains:

I think I’m going to need a bigger boat.